Friday, July 25, 2014

Visits from the Pennsylvanians

Received a short visit from "Blazeman" (Larry) and his friends Bob & Alden. We ran the return trip of WY80, the  Tank Sweeper (collects cars from the Sunoco and Texaco refineries) from Paulsboro to Camden and WY841, the Camden to Penns Grove local.

WY80 only had to collect 3 cars from the South Woodbury yard (left after the Texaco pickups by WY79). So it returned home quickly.

Meanwhile WY841 was launched from Camden. It started with only 6 cars. (It will have 14 cars by the time it reaches Penns Grove and Deepwater.) Bob and Alden did the drops and pick ups in Westville and North Woodbury but had to leave before completing the South Woodbury yard work. So I completed that.

I am now left to break down 2 trains, run WY840 from Penns Grove back to Camden and do the Camden yard switching. At this rate it will be about 6 weeks to finish the first day's schedule!

Dropping off a reefer for icing:

Picking up 2 box cars:

Reassembling the train:

Snaking through crossovers and getting out of town:

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Bachmann Lifetime Warranty.

A relatively local hobby shop makes periodic runs to Bachmann's repair center in Philadelphia and said they have a lifetime warranty and would fix any Bachmann equipment. Well I have managed to collect 3 Bachmann Reading 2-8-0 steam engines (only one of which sorta ran) so in April I delivered 2 of them to the hobby shop for the repair run. One should have been an easy repair since I believe the worm was just loose on the shaft and spinning.

Later I heard that if they can't fix them they will substitute an equivalent engine FOR A FEE. So when I heard that I stopped into the hobby shop and told them I did not want to pay for a substitute, so if necessary just get my engines back if they can't fix them

Well Wednesday (11 weeks later) I get a call from the hobby shop saying they couldn't repair them (I very much doubt that they tried) and just gave me substitutes and wanted $25 each for them. Ignoring the fact that that was exactly what I didn't want, I went to the hobby shop. The substitutes were both Bachman 2-6-2 Prairie locomotives, neither of them Reading and neither having a Reading Wooten fire box. (One was in a beautiful Southern green scheme and was a temptress.) Neither being of any value on a 1950 Pennsylvania - Reading Seashore Lines layout (and not wanting to spend $25/$50) I refused them. So now I've lost 2 Reading 2-8-0s that at least had display potential and am very ticked at Bachmann (and the hobby shop).

Also last week I had won a new Bachmann Reading GP7 on eBay at a very reasonable price. It arrived DOA. Did nothing on DC and nothing on a friend's DCC layout. No light, no noise, no movement. Nice looking engine but back it went.

[35 of my 130 remaining engines are Bachmann, most of them still run.]

Update: While the consols (2-8-0s) are lost forever I must give kudos to Bachmann for their customer service rep, Laura. Multiple emails and a phone call is service beyond what I could have ever expected. They tried their best.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Blog Anniversary #3

This is the third anniversary of this blog. On the first blog anniversary I estimated that most blogs seem to run out of things to say somewhere between the 2nd and 4th years so I guess I should run out of gas soon!

So what have we learned:
  • I have found that blogs are a great place to store info about the prototype and a way to keep myself from repeating mistakes (somewhat) and a chance to reflect on the path to get to here.
  • The social aspects of the hobby make the journey worthwhile. I actively participate on the Railwire and forums (and boy are they worlds apart) and monitor Trainboard. Through them I have met several interesting people, many of whom I would call friends. I have learned a lot and been pushed to accomplish things I would not have attempted on my own.
  • Historical Societies provide a ton of prototype information but many of the ex-railroaders are sometimes a little rough around the edges. (It must have been difficult work and I don't think the Pennsy was very employee friendly.)
  • To get to a semi-completed layout state a lot of compromises have to be made.

What has been accomplished:
  • In 3 years my PRSL layout has gotten to an operational state with most of the first pass scenery complete. (Long, long way to go.)
  • Realistic operations is a lot of work but a group makes it enjoyable.
  • It is fun to put a stake in an historical period and bring back to life your childhood.

Things I still don't know:
  • Does anybody else actually read this blog? I have only gotten comments from 3 people. It would be nice to know if anyone found anything here helpful (or at least amusing).
Anyway it has been a good 3 years, I now need to go blow out the candles.
Have a great day!  :-)

P.S. I hate blog entries without pictures!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The "Learnings" List

Project Management requirements include the necessity of maintaining a "Learnings List". There you keep note of all the things you learned (mostly bad but some good) during the project so you don't repeat the same mistakes on the next project.

Two things I learned during the first operating session were:

1) You need someplace to sort the car cards/ waybills, especially when blocking cars in the yard (can't do that in the tool aprons). So I added shelving at the Camden Pavonia yard and the small South Woodbury yard. In the Woodbury yard you need to sort out which cars you are picking up (depends on the direction you are going).

2) When you are my age you need someplace to rest your weary bones and Walmart's 30" wooden stools ($20) give you rest and the ability to watch the trains at nearly eye level!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

For the 100th Post: The First Operations Session - Hooray!

I had a 5 hour window of availability with my new crew/"posse". Since this was our first session together, I took them on a tour of the prototype area I modeled in Westville and Woodbury.  This gave them a feel for what we are trying to accomplish.

We then watched segments of a DVD showing PRR & RDG steam going through the area modeled and a David Popp video on car cards & waybills.

After pigging out on pizza we hit the train room with only 2 hours left.

The only PRSL freight schedule I have is a 1974 version (the trackage is 1950 accurate) and we attempted to run 4 of the 5 scheduled freights in the time we had available.

Skipping the morning and evening commuter runs we planned to run the following:
  1. Philly transfer into Pavonia (took longer than expected to break it down)
  2. WY843/842            Deepwater coal drag 
  3. WY33/34                Millville local
  4. WY841/840            Deepwater local
  5. WY79/80                Tank train sweeper for Texaco (Westville) and Sunoco (Paulsboro (off-line)).
  6. Pavonia to Philly transfer

We got halfway through.

The yard had electrical continuity issues (in spite of running perfectly the night before  :-)) but the yard crew persevered.

Even though south Woodbury did not have a separate switcher on the prototype , I think it will need one on my layout.

I think we have proven that the layout can keep 4 people very busy and is relatively balanced if we can keep the main yard working efficiently..

In the end:
  • We had fun
  • There is still a lot of planning that needs to be done to clean up the bottle necks.
  • In the fall we will have another go at it.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Getting Ready for Operations - Preparing for the First Session

To get ready for our first operating session (6/28/14) I collected supplies and began getting the freight cars where they need to be.

The mini-flashlights compensate for minimal room lighting and aged eyes to be able to read the car numbers. The aprons hold the waybills and the picks are for uncoupling.

To determine what freight cars I would need for an operating session, I removed all the freight cars on the layout (they had been selected using the criteria in my October 24th, 2013 blog entry). I arranged them in order by car type and the railroad proportions we had calculated.

I then started adding cars back to meet the operational requirements I had planned (industry generated) for the Monday schedule. I then ran the Monday schedule making required set-outs (nothing ready for pick-up yet). It starts with a coal drag arriving from Philadelphia with the loaded hoppers needed on the line. (Seen to the right of the picture below.)

It soon became apparent that I would need to split the yard into 4 tracks for Camden/Pavonia and only 2 for the terminating portion of (the same yard). I also moved the shared MOW & Cabin track to the 5th of the 7 tracks.

The schedule includes a hotshot coal drag to the Atlantic City power plant (off-line), the Millville local, the refinery sweeper (delivers/collects tankers at the Texaco refinery in Westville (on-line) and the Sunoco refinery in Paulsboro (off-line)). Then a Deepwater local. As on the prototype, all runs are out and back the same day.

I soon realized I had too many cars being delivered to Camden (by the yard crew). The sidings need to hold today's set-outs + yesterdays set-outs (pick-up take place on each car's 3rd day) (Set-out - Hold - Pick-up cycle).

Anyway I finally got the 3rd day's schedule running which gets everything set-up for a full operation session.

My Lessons Learned (standard project management requirement) included:
  • Before placing the cars, run them all and remove the ones that derail or have broken couplers (10 of my 125). Reliability counts.
  • Running the whole schedule by yourself is exhausting (and there is nobody to joke around with). I need to get some bar stools
  • I needed the construction aprons to hold car cards (and waybills) and uncoupling pics and flashlight to read car numbers and to see to uncouple the cars.
  • I had too many cars scheduled for the Camden industries (and others). I need to significantly reduce the industry request waybills from my original matrix.
  • I think I have enough yard capacity to keep the yards below 70% full. Time will tell.
  • I think it works well in planning by removing all cars and adding them as needed the first time.
  • I ended up with about the same number of cars calculated but in different car type ratios (less box cars and more tankers and reefers).

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Getting Ready for Operations!

After 3 years of sweat and construction I am getting the layout ready for its first operating session. The purpose of an operating session is to run the railroad as if it were a real railroad, one built to move supplies and finished products around the country.

To do that, I created a spreadsheet listing the industries, the supplies they needed and the products they ship out. Then waybills (order to get empty cars to the industry to be filled and then instructions on where to ship them) were created. Railroad cars are then obtained to meet the waybill requests.

I will use the MicroMark car and waybill system. This week I mounted the waybill boxes (to hold the cards at the industries) and made up about half of the 200+ waybills I will need.

I also spent time running the railroad cars on the layout to weed out the broken and poor running ones.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Certainly Not State of the Art

Newcomers to the hobby would be wise to start out with code 55 track (for realism) and DCC engine control. Both have become practical and reasonably priced.

Unfortunately I am not a newcomer nor am I "State of the Art!"  When you have spent 50+ years acquiring 120+ engines, conversion to DCC is not financially feasible. Nor is replacing 50+ turnouts and hundreds of feet of code 80 track.

So here I be! A DC layout with 59 electrical blocks and powered by 6 MRC Tech 2 & Tech 3 power packs. I still have some issues to work out (power surges when transitioning from one tower's control to the next) but we are now functional! The yard on my previous layout and the current yard never got powered (until recently) because I kept putting off attempting to solder wires to those 3 little posts on the Mini-toggles. Consider it due to paralyzing fear.

So wanting to get to the point where I can begin full scale operations, I wired the yard through Atlas Selector controls. We can now be considered an operational layout. (Which probably puts us ahead of the professionals who will look down upon such obsolete efforts but are still in the forever planning stage.)

Next up: Figuring how to generate realistic traffic to the industries on the 12 spurs and 3 team tracks. The end is in sight!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

SJNSLWLT#1.75 (1 3/4 annual South Jersey N Scale Lone Wolf Layout Tour)'s management notified me that we were overdue for an official inspection from the forum's Reach Police (can all train wrecks be reasonably reached from an aisle) division. Thursday was the designated day which meant we would not be able to get Bob (NTrainz1) to join us (see July 13, 2013 blog entry) since he still has to work for a living.

We haven't seen Tim in a long time. His son, the Model Railcast Show moderator, has informed me that since last year's get together he has switched from N to HO to Lionel, and is considering a Garden railroad. (We will have to get the forum management to initiate court marshal proceedings.)

Anyway we were happy to see Gene and his GE 70 tonner which came for a visit. The little critter did some switching in the South  Woodbury yard which we were able to record for posterity. PRSL officials put it through its paces to see if it could be of value on the line. Although it has a high cuteness coefficient it proved to be a little light footed (3-6 cars on level ground and our PRSL in spite of being in flat southern NJ has a profile with some short but challenging grades).

Gene is a retired school teacher from Barnagat Light and is one of those folks who perpetually encourages others. I'll bet he has left a lasting impression on an army of school kids. His presence is also greatly appreciated on the forums on which he participates.

For our next visit we scooted over to Glassboro to view John's progress. He is beginning to rough in scenery for his NS line (in Virginia). He has also taken the plunge into converting the layout to DCC. John's desire is to see long trains run through dwarfing scenery and he has a 12'x28' room in which to do that. Nothing like a long coal drag through sweeping S curves.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The PRSL Historical Society was telling stories of EL RS3s that showed up on the property in the early Conrail era and were known for starting fires. I assume they meant along the right of way.

Anyway that gave me an excuse to add some color to the PRSL. I acquired a shell and used it on a duplicate RS3 that was on my roster. Broke one of the handrails and still need to add couplers but I love having it.

Reading RS3s were frequent visitors during my early 1950s time period, so it is just a little stretch to put it on the layout.

I found an EMD SD70 in the NS heritage Erie colors on eBay from a seller with a high feedback rating at a good price with free shipping. It arrived but sounded like it was going to explode so it has to go back. The seller is offering to replace it so he will get high feedback ratings!

Meanwhile set up a quick photo shoot (with 1950s tankers) just because it was so pretty.